It may pay to Discover for customers, but Discover Financial Services, the credit services division of Morgan Stanley, found that it also pays to invest in learning and development for all levels of its workforce.
“Our mission is to ensure that our employees are equipped to provide the best service, to perform within a culture that supports high performance,” said Mary Hester-Clifton, director of leadership learning and development, Discover Financial Services. “One of our strategies is to attract, develop and retain the best workforce, so we support that corporate strategy by providing employees with learning and development opportunities.”
Hester-Clifton supports the learning and organizational development of roughly 4,000 of the group’s 15,000 or so employees. Ensuring that the competency-based leadership development initiatives her group offers are directly applied to each business unit’s needs is challenging, and a lot of the work is done through consulting. “When I say ‘competencies,’ I mean the person has the knowledge, skills and ability to do well in their present position or within the next 12 months. Our approach is more consulting and collaborating with the business unit to make sure that there are regular relationships there, and that we’re a part of some of their business decisions and definitely educated on their challenges and needs so that we can recommend solutions.”
This valuable collaboration takes place via a coverage model where people are assigned to regularly attend business meetings in each major business function. By building relationships with key executives and managers in the business unit, Hester-Clifton and her team can determine development needs and provide appropriate learning.
Discover uses a blended learning approach with instructor-led and online learning components, including an online library of courses organized for various competencies. “We also encourage and support external education through local universities and colleges,” Hester-Clifton said. “And we take content that is already designed and make it a more collaborative session where there’s some instructor-led and some online learning.”
For instance, to address the company’s atmosphere of constant change, managers from different business functions enrolled in a course on managing change effectively. After an overview of the online learning content, including a preview and tutorial of the software, they met other people who would go through the learning experience with them. Learners are given a recommended schedule for collaborative sessions, as well as exercises to help them relate the content to on-the-job challenges. There is follow-up discussion on what they’ve learned, how it’s been applied and what continuing needs may exist. “It’s like a cross-fertilization opportunity and collaborative session to offer and receive help and coaching from your peers, who may be experiencing similar things based on a certain body of content or knowledge,” Hester-Clifton said. “Then, you create an action plan from that to take back to your team or managers.”
To be sure the action plans have been carried out and progress has been made, Discover uses Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation and rates all employees annually on a five-point competency scale based on a predetermined list of behaviors for leaders. “The behaviors are designed by level,” Hester-Clifton said. “There’s a level of behaviors for an entry-level manager, a midlevel manager, and there are behaviors defined for executives. There are also some defined for non-exempt, which are our hourly workers, and for exempt. We use a vendor, KnowledgeAdvisors, to capture Level 1 and Level 3 as far as anticipating the job impact and the skills applied. Then we follow in six months with an evaluation. Also, with our evaluation process, especially in our blended learning for our leadership labs, there are some agreed-upon front-end metrics. The participants decide what they would have to gain for this to be effective, and we help them set up those initial metrics and their follow-up afterward to see if it was effective.”
Currently transitioning its talent development activities from plan to practice and from a specific business-unit approach to an enterprise-wide one, Discover’s leadership and talent solutions are somewhat synonymous. Hester-Clifton and her team focus on leaders, and once a talent development plan has been identified and assessed for candidates at the director level and above, they determine who is a high-potential employee and what critical jobs are in the succession-planning pipeline. “We’re beginning to assess the success criteria, defining it and presenting a process of reviews from the different business units,” Hester-Clifton said. “Most business units have done it independently through talent reviews. Now we’re looking at it functionally across the organization. Once those (criteria) are identified, we’ll have individual development plans and coaching sessions, and continue the very customized development process for high potentials. That’s a challenge. High-potentials want to work. They want to be in the business. We try to find ways to give them the experiences and opportunities that help them grow. It’s not the ‘send them to a class’ type of development. They’re coached, monitored, mentored. It’s real life.”
–Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org
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